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I had the pleasure of viewing this film at a press screening recently,
as well as hearing an interesting Q&A afterwords. I was very impressed
with this film.
I've read extensively about the topic of the Lincoln assassination, and came into the theatre expecting another Hollywood style period piece, one that minces facts and creates story lines where there are none. I came out feeling very contented, and a little teary. This movie is very well acted and truly conveys the emotion felt by the characters in history, unlike some civil war films.
This movie truly is about the struggle between justice and country. I won't give much away, but the emotional conflicts in this film are very deep and strong. I was very surprised at James Mcavoy's handling of the character, and more so his good American accent :D. Robin Wright and other supporting cast are also superb. Do see this movie when it comes out! It's a fantastic drama that will keep you at the edge of your seat, mixed in with fantastic period details. Any fan of American history and the civil war will enjoy this.
Robert Redford's The Conspirator dramatizes the military trial of Mary
Suratt, a boarding house owner accused of harboring conspirators and
being involved in the plot to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln. It
is a strong, if somewhat obvious, drama that depicts the mood of
hysteria that followed the assassination, and suggests its relevance to
today's politics. Written by James Solomon who spent fourteen years
researching the story, the film opens with a brief introduction showing
the agony of combat troops in the Civil War, then focuses on the
assassination of the President on April 14, 1865 by actor John Wilkes
Booth (Toby Kebbell), a Southern partisan and his companions Lewis
Payne (Norman Reedus), David Herold (Marcus Hester), and Samuel Arnold
(Jeremy Tuttle) at the Ford Theatre in Washington, D.C..
Stealthily entering the President's box, Booth shoots Lincoln in the head, then leaps onto the stage shouting "sic semper tyrannis" (thus always to tyrants), and escapes on horseback. The assassination results in an outpouring of grief all over the country, and prompts the Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton (Kevin Kline) to vow revenge against the conspirators. After a two week search, Booth is found hiding in a nearby barn and shot to death, while seven suspected co-conspirators are arrested including Mary Suratt. Suratt is tried by a military tribunal where the rules state that only a majority vote is required for a guilty verdict and a two-thirds vote is needed to sentence a defendant to death. It is a court where a defendant is prohibited from testifying in their own defense.
Senator Reverdy Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) from Virginia and a former U. S. Attorney General agrees to defend Suratt on the grounds that she is innocent until proved guilty. The Senator, however, withdraws because he fears that being a Southerner might prejudice his case, and asks Frederick Aiken (James McEvoy), a northern attorney to defend her. Initially reluctant and dubious about her story, Aiken resolves to prove her innocence after seeing that the defendant was up against an overbearing prosecutor (Danny Huston), a biased head of the tribunal (Colm Meany), and the behind-the-scenes antagonism of Secretary Stanton.
At great cost to his personal life, Aiken tries to prove that Ms. Suratt knew the boarders who lived in her house, but was not involved in their conspiracy. As the case progresses, it becomes apparent that only her son John (Johnny Simmons), a known conspirator who fled to Canada, can save his mother by surrendering. While there is limited dimension to the characters, The Conspirator is true to the historical record and the film presents its message in a clear and powerful way. Redford, long a champion of civil liberties, implicitly reminds us that the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution expressly guarantees that "no person shall be deprived of life without due process of law" and provides no exception for war.
It is not only an important message for those unfamiliar with our nation's history, but is strikingly relevant to the present day in which hundreds of detainees at Guantanamo still languish in prison without trial, where a U.S. citizen, suspected of terrorist activities, is targeted for an assassination attempt without having been charged with, let alone convicted of, any crime, and where the ideal of due process and the presumption of innocence is slowly being replaced by unlimited violence, the repudiation of legality, and the undermining of democracy.
Saw the film today, I was very impressed. Yes somethings looked wrong (mostly uniform items) but on the whole a job well done. Great film locations and acting. James MacAvoy follows his outstanding performance in Last King of Scotland with a tour de force. Robin Wright plays her role just right. Kevin Kline's performance might be my favorite of his ever. Outstanding period feel with great on site shooting at homes in Savannah, GA. Got the impression that at least the film company made a serious effort to get the look right. The Q and A after the screen I attended really highlighted the efforts they put into the film to get it right. Noted historian James McPherson was a consultant strongly recommended film when it comes out on April 15th.
Robert Redford has assembled an impressively strong cast to bring to
the screen a very important and poignant story. Watching this film a
couple of weeks ago, I did not know what to expect. What I got was a
great film about the trials of the people that were involved behind the
assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Robin Wright delivers one of the best
performances of her career, in a role that seemed tailor-made for her.
Redford follows up a politically charged film (Lions for Lambs) with a historically charged film, that definitely is not light on the politics. However, he does succeed at presenting the unknown story of a loving mother and clearly stating the events that followed Lincoln's assassination.
The film transported me back in time. Beautifully shot, supported by amazing art direction and costumes, and driven by James McAvoy strong performance, "The Conspirator" stands as a movie for the times, that will definitely be revisited for years to come.
"The Conspirator" is an impossible trial to win, but it's tried by the
best cast in the best manner possible. Heroes returned home from the
Civil War to be greeted by the Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton (Kevin
Kline) and other high-profile members of the War Department. President
Abraham Lincoln was occupied elsewhere.
After the assassination of Lincoln, we follow not so much the trials of the conspirators, but the trials of lawyer Frederick Aiken (James McAvoy). McAvoy has quickly forged an incredible career where he has a propensity to play the man next to historical figures and provide us with an inside view (like the doctor to Idi Amin in "The Last King of Scotland" or secretary to Leo Tolstoy in "The Last Station").
Here, McAvoy is the very patriotic soldier-turned-lawyer defending Mary Surrat (Robin Wright), the lone female conspirator. The film focuses only on Surrat's part of the trial of the conspirators, mostly because this film is about her lawyer. A devout supporter of Stanton and the Union, Aiken believed that Surrat was guilty and spent just as much time proving her guilt as her innocence. His internal struggles accepting everything that he had to do and what he should do were rather profound. I also think they make up McAvoy's best performance of his career. Too bad that the Academy will have forgotten it by the time the Oscars come around.
Like the best historical dramas, Redford never comes out and says if he believes that Surrat was innocent or guilty. "The Conspirator" isn't about that. This is about the trial. His views on the use of a military tribunal versus a civil trial are clear.
I was blown away by the impeccable production, the cast, and the sheer atrocities committed by so many of the characters not on trial. There may have been a few artistic licences taken, but I doubt it was with the extremes to which some military personnel will go. The great Kevin Kline and the up-and-coming Johnny Simmons play the two least sympathetic characters in the movie. Phenomenal casting is just one the great aspects of "The Conspirator".
The Conspiritor uses an event that happened 150 years ago to tell a
story which is all too familiar in our time. The backdrop off a
shocking, sad event and the following massive public outcry pushes the
powers to be to extreme measures, which they stand by because they feel
to be forced to do or because they really believe it to be the only
Robert Redford has been well known for his political views and has displayed them already in the somewhat uneven Lions for Lambs. I like filmmakers who speak out. I can maybe not always agree, but I wholeheartedly admire that in this time of mindless action drivel like Transformers, Drive Angry and The Mechanic there is still hope for without trying to be arrogant: meaningful films. Redford uses the assassination of Lincoln to portray a nation in mourning and sadness. The Civil War was all but over and the policymakers were already planning the next step: the forming of a real Union. The assassination of Lincoln endangered the entire Union. The people wanted revenge and Edwin Stanton (an excellent Kevin Kline) serves it cold. Since her son is nowhere to be found anywhere, he settles for the next thing: his mother Mary Surrat. 'I don't care which one it is, as long as one of them pays the price'. Young Frederick Alken (James McAvoy) has the ungrateful task of defending her.
I don't know much about the Civil War and the period after that, so I can't say how accurate this film is. But what I can say is that it's a masterpiece in creating a period not so distant from our current world. If you replace the assassination of Lincoln with the 9/11-attacks, you have a film that stands firm. It asks relevant questions and holds a mirror right up to our faces. Are seeing clearly? In the sadness and outrage of such a shocking event, do we still see clearly what's going on? Do we still, as a people, have perspective enough to define friend from foe from guilty to innocent? Do our leaders have the capability, strength and courage to make us see or tell us 'no' when we are wrong? Or do policies, political views or elections hold them back and make them just give the public what they want? Mary Surrat, Lincoln, Osama Bin Laden, Afghanistan, Bush, Edward Stanton, Abu Grahib, post Civil War Washington, Guantanomo Bay. History repeats itself over and over again. When will we learn? Guilty or innocent. Is it important? Do we care? I give this film 8 out of 10.
Saw the film for the first time a couple of weeks ago, and I must say that I thought it was Fantastic!! I couldn't believe that this was a true story, given that I had never heard of Mary Surrat or the trials that happened after the assassination of Lincoln. As far as performances go, James McAvoy and Robin Wright were outstanding. Robin brought such grace and poise to the role, I just wish she was on screen more!! I thought Redford did a great job transporting his audience back to one of the most pivotal moments in American history. Overall a great cinematic feat. Thank you "The Conspirator" for bringing such an interesting story to light!!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
As far back as I can remember, I have always been a Lincoln/Kennedy assassination buff. There are many similarities between the lives and deaths of the two men, sadly one of them is that we will never know the entire truth behind their deaths. I eagerly awaited this film and I will say up front that it was well worth the wait. Except for the 1998 TNT-TV film The Day Lincoln Was Shot, this is the finest motion picture about the terrible events of April 14, 1865. For this history lover, watching this masterwork was like reading history by flashes of lightning! Robert Redford is a true genius as a director. He won an Oscar for the 1980 movie Ordinary People and as far as I'm concerned the Academy should just mail him another right now and save everyone a lot of trouble! This great filmmaker perfectly captures the mood, texture and feel of the nation after the assassination when people wanted revenge and not justice and innocent people paid a terrible price. People don't realize that Lincoln's death caused the country as much heartache as JFKs did. There can be not greater injustice then an innocent person being executed and watching this film I am convinced beyond any possible doubt that poor Mary Surrat was such a person. Robin Wright, Mrs. Forrest Gump, is amazing as this dignified, brave woman. She should also get Oscar gold. She is a simple widow who is caught up in this race for vengeance. You feel for this poor woman who is caught in a nightmare. A young actor called James McAvoy also shines as her young lawyer who at first is reluctant and then fights with passion. The courtroom scenes are the best I have seen since A Few Good Men. I was so angry because Mary Surrat and the others were illegally tried by a military court. It was later ruled that this trial should never have taken place. It was a trial that stank with perjury and she did not stand a chance. SPOILER ALERT, the final scene of the hanging is bone chilling. You feel like a time traveler standing there watching it. To me, this is Robin Wright's finest hour as an actress as she bravely faces death while her three male counterparts are weeping. Robin made Mary Surrat seem so real to me and that is the greatest compliment that you can pay an actor. I was so angry at her cowardly son John. He was the real culprit. He was the one who was going to help Booth and the others escape. The assumption is (and this film makes a convincing case) that the government only arrested Mary to draw out her son and when he did not come forward, they had no choice but to hang her. SPOILER ALERT, in the last scene of the film after the execution John Surrat is finally caught and there is a scene where Aiken visits him in jail and gives him his mother's religious jewelry. The credits mention that John Surrat was tried but set free, I hoped that he never had a happy day for the rest of his life because his mother's innocent blood was always on his filthy hands. This is a four star two thumbs up masterpieces and this is the reason that we go to the movies.
Once again, the young actor JAMES McAVOY gives an earnest and
altogether convincing portrait of a man assigned to be the defense
lawyer for Mary Surratt, accused as one of the conspirators in the
assassination of Abraham Lincoln.
Since the whole story is told from his point of view, it emerges as a realistic depiction of how events might have unfolded, taking no firm stand on the innocence or guilt of the accused. As the nation mourns the sudden death of its leader taken from them just as the Civil War ended, we are told that justice must be swift to heal the wounds of the public and satisfy a thirst for revenge. It's that viewpoint that makes this film relevant today, in view of other controversial historical events, but first and foremost the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963.
One glaring quibble: Apparently, to fully immerse the viewer in this time of history and to suit the flavor of the grim tale, Redford has chosen to use very muted color photography so that this is almost a sepia tone experience. But do we have to be reminded so flagrantly that this was the candlelit era? Scenes outside of the courtroom could have used flashes of real color, as could the social circle interiors of other scenes instead of keeping the low-key lighting so constant. It became a distraction for me. He may as well have used glorious B&W.
Other technical aspects are fine and the background score is effective without becoming overwhelming. ROBIN WRIGHT PENN plays Mary Surratt with quiet dignity and strength. KEVIN KLINE is almost unrecognizable as the stubbornly determined EDWIN STANTON seeking quick justice, EVAN RACHEL WOOD is effective as the distraught daughter Anna Surratt, and JOHNNY SIMMONS is sobering as the accused woman's son who manages to escape imprisonment for his role in the John Wilkes Booth caper. His character, unfortunately, isn't fleshed out at all.
Biggest supporting role goes to TOM WILKINSON as the man who urges McAvoy to take the defense case against his wishes. He and McAvoy share most of the running time on screen and do magnificent jobs.
History buffs will no doubt find this more interesting than the average movie fan looking for a more adventurous look at the past, but despite flaws, it is competently made and does recreate the actual events in a satisfying manner by use of flashbacks and an intelligent script. But did it have to be so dark?
I saw this movie twice with two different friends who wanted to go. I thought it was great the first time and even better the second. The second time I watched from the perspective of believing Mary was guilty and was surprised that I enjoyed it even more that time. Robin Wright and James McAvoy do an amazing job in portraying real, complicated human beings. Kevin Kline seems villainous, but can also be read as a strong man in the grip of emotion and overwhelming responsibility. The cast is riveting, with breathtakingly well-done small and large parts. Couldn't take my eyes off Stephen Root and John Collum during their time on the screen. I enjoyed it and it got me thinking. There's real subtlety here -- art and history brought together.
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